Dems reserve airtime ahead of election

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has reserved airtime for the final two weeks before the election in key congressional districts across the country.

It has banked more than $5.2 million worth of airtime in 50 television markets, according to a Republican consultant who tracks Democratic ad purchases.

The DCCC did not respond to a request for comment.

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From upstate New York — where Rep. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.) faces a tough reelection fight — to Albuquerque, where the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is targeting freshman Rep. Harry Teague (D-N.M.), Democrats are flexing their financial muscle to protect vulnerable members.

“They’re reserving time where they know they need to be,” the Republican ad buyer told The Hill.

And possibly while they have the financial advantage to do it.

The DCCC had $33.7 million cash on hand at the end of June; the NRCC had $17 million. The committee is expected to place additional buys in the coming days.

In some cases they’ll be able to cancel their buys, but trackers suspect these reservations are in districts where the party wants to take a stand or send a message.

“These are places where come hell or high water they’re going to be in,” the Republican ad tracker told The Hill.

It’s a risky strategy in some ways. There’s the possibility the ad could get pulled, which could generate negative news coverage for the DCCC and its candidate.

The committee is also effectively showing its hand to the GOP in terms of the districts where it’s playing. But perhaps as a means to counteract that, the committee has made strictly broadcast TV advertising reservations. A broadcast TV reservation doesn’t have to be district-specific — as opposed to, say, cable TV — so the move could throw off Republicans by giving them a false impression of where the ads will air.

In Denver, for instance, the DCCC has made a $300,000 buy that will start on Oct. 12 and air through Nov. 2. Denver’s media market covers several congressional districts, including those of freshman Reps. Jared Polis (D) and Betsy Markey (D), a top GOP target. The committee can opt to attack either of the Democrats’ opponents depending on the landscape in the fall.

There are several advantages to reserving early. The committee gets a lower rate now — the savings can be anywhere from 20 to 50 percent — because it can negotiate with stations before they fill their fall ad schedule. Waiting until September, consultants say, will leave the committees at a disadvantage because the stations can charge higher rates.

Getting in early also allows the committee to negotiate better placement of its ads, which increases the chances average voters — and not just insomniacs or the unemployed — will see them.

Campaign committees are typically more concerned about advertising rates than an individual campaign because they don’t receive the lowest unit rates (LUR) that a candidate receives under election law.

One of the original provisions of the Disclose Act would have required broadcasters to offer lowest unit rates (LUR) to political parties and PACs on top of the current legal requirement that LUR be extended to candidate campaigns.

The provision was removed from the House version of the bill before passage, but remains in the Senate version of the bill.

Strategists say buying now could also act as a smoke signal to third-party groups that want to compound the party’s message. [Overt coordination between the two is illegal.] It could also have a psychological effect on the Democrats’ opponent, acting as a shot across the bow of the Republican challenger.

In July of 2008, the DCCC placed early buys in 31 congressional districts across the country, reserving more than $30 million worth of television time.

The committee reserved early time in every one of its top 10 targeted congressional races that year. The DCCC spent the most money targeting Republican-held open-seat races in its round of July buys that year — more than $13 million. That was closely followed by the ad time in districts with vulnerable Democratic incumbents.

In all, the committee placed buys of more than $1 million in 19 separate districts.

Toward the end of July 2008, the DCCC reserved time in an additional 20 districts, spending another $18 million.

Another note of comparison between the DCCC’s ’08 buys and 2010 is that this year’s come a couple weeks later than they did a cycle ago.

The major difference in 2008 was the staggering financial advantage the committee held over its Republican counterpart. Heading into the summer of 2008, the DCCC had nearly $50 million in the bank. The NRCC had just over $6 million. So the DCCC’s early buy was as much strategic as it was practical.

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